Marguerite LeHand and Franklin Delano Roosevelt
FDR held the presidency longer than any other man in US history, a period in which he spent the majority of time confined to a wheelchair, a victim of polio. FDR never gave up trying to beat polio, bathing, and swimming in the waters of Warm Springs Georgia and occasionally walking with the assistance of two canes, heavy leg braces, and the supporting arms of one or two aides.
As hard as it is to believe in today’s world, a large number of his constituents were unaware of his infirmity. Photographs of the President in his wheelchair were not allowed and the press cooperated by avoiding taking pictures of the President’s painful attempts to walk, other than when they were carefully coordinated and planned.
Marguerite LeHand knew FDR long before he was President, having worked for him when he was a Wall Street lawyer prior to his being stricken with polio. When he became Governor of New York she accompanied him to Albany as his personal secretary, a move she repeated when he went to the White House in 1933. Roosevelt scholars and family members disagree about the nature of their relationship, with some claiming that they were simply affectionate fellow professionals and others suspecting a more intimate relationship.
The argument that they never consummated a sexual relationship is supported by the nature of FDR’s paralysis but the same argument is subverted by the fact that they were nearly inseparable prior to Roosevelt contracting the disease which disabled him.
An instructive view is that of FDR’s wife Eleanor, who remained on more or less cordial terms with Marguerite until the latter’s death in 1944, following a series of strokes. Eleanor wrote of Marguerite’s and Franklin’s relationship being a substitute for aspects of her own with her husband, where Marguerite provided “…someone else to meet the need…” which she herself could not. When Marguerite died Eleanor attended her funeral and the President, who did not, wrote, “…Her memory will ever be held in affectionate remembrance and appreciation…” Not in attendance was another of FDR’s female companions, of whom Eleanor had a dimmer view.